The unfortunate truth is that when Barack Obama and Mitt Romney debate next week on foreign policy, they will seek to outgun each other.
Even as many of the most conservative Republicans have joined liberal Democrats in acknowledging that out-of-control Pentagon spending is a deficit issue, the presidential nominees of the two major parties remain exceptionally cautious about speaking the blunt truth that spending on unnecessary wars and unworkable weaponry costs the country financially, structurally and morally.
Obama is a good deal better on the issue than the increasingly bombastic Romney, who with his running mate, Paul Ryan, is campaigning for a return to neocon military adventurism. But Obama does not want to be painted as "soft" on defense. For 40 years now, Democrats have sought to avoid the label that was attached to George McGovern, the World War II hero who recognized the folly of squandering America's human, moral and fiscal prospects on war-making in Vietnam.
It is true that McGovern lost his 1972 presidential race. But he did not lose because he was wrong. He lost because of the wrong politics of a moment when his own party was divided and his opposition was ruthless.
Today, as an ailing, 90-year-old, McGovern is on life support in a South Dakota hospice, the vision he articulated as his party's nominee for the presidency, and as one of its ablest and most honorable senators, is as correct as ever. And it is a good deal more politically viable, as even conservatives are talking about the need to make deep cuts in Pentagon spending and the attendant policing of the world; last year, in the midst of the wrangling over deficits and debts, conservative Senator Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, proposed a $1 trillion reduction in military spending over the next 10 years.